If you’ve never seen Empire Records, please let me preface this opinion post with another opinion – GO SEE IT. It is to the 1990’s what Breakfast Club was to the 1980’s, and I really mean that in the best way possible. Trust me. It’s about a corporate music store attempting to take over a smaller, individual music store but that’s only the surface plot. It’s actually got a lot going on. You won’t necessarily have to have seen the film to know what I’m talking about, but it will definitely make a lot more sense.
But I’m going to largely be dealing with the surface plot here.
The reason I’m making this post today is because as I was introducing my wife Peyton to the film (she’d never seen it), I realized as the story unfolded that this movie couldn’t happen in today’s world. Almost not a thing. Let me count the reasons.
WHEN LUCAS “BORROWS” THE DAY’S PROFITS AND GAMBLES IT AWAY IN AN ATTEMPT TO SAVE THE STORE FROM CORPORATE TAKEOVER.
First of all, Lucas doesn’t really seem the type to be handed any sort of authority in today’s workplace world. In my experience, people like Lucas tend never to be given a chance as they chafe against established paradigms and social constructs like “arriving to work on time”. Lucas does seem to have his heart in the right place, but if this movie were made today, when corporations reign supreme, Lucas either would have been fired or would have been transferred or would have never been given a promotion in the first place. If he did manage to be on the same path as 1995 Lucas, he would have been fired for his theft, arrested, and would have found trouble finding basic work after he was released – because anything over $950 is “grand theft” with a sentence of at least one year, but maybe two or three in actuality. In today’s homogenized and strictly-structured retail world, you can get in trouble for your cash drawer being just a few dollars off, much less $9,000. And let’s not forget that in today’s world, with the rate of inflation being what it is – Lucas would have actually stolen $14, 873. What a little shit. And because managers are now discouraged, and sometimes even penalized for having friendships with their employees – Joe wouldn’t have owed him a thing. And if he did have a friendship with him and corporate found out, Joe would have been terminated as well. That would have made the beating Joe gave Lucas even more deserved.
But lest we should also forget, if Joe did beat Lucas in the workplace of today – there’s no doubt he would not only be let go, but that he’d be charged with assault and battery. Way to go, Joe. “Superb” boss, indeed.
WHEN THE WOMEN EMPLOYEES WEAR EXTREMELY REVEALING OUTFITS (FOR A RETAIL SPACE) AND NOBODY BATS AN EYE.
When we are first introduced to the characters of Gina (Renee Zellwegger) and Corey (Liv Tyler) – we are immediately smacked in the face by their sexuality. This is not a problem in most circles (and even probably encouraged), but in today’s sanitized corporate world, people are not allowed to flaunt their individuality, much less their sexuality. High-rise skirts and low-cut tops like the ones we see worn in Empire Records would definitely not be allowed. And if you’ve seen the film, you know that at one point it’s stated that Music Town employees are not allowed to wear revealing clothing and actually must wear an apron. Gina rebels against this future standard by donning “only” an apron over her underthings, right in the same room as her boss, and a few of her male co-workers.
Notice all the smiling, the looks, the…everything behind her (we see you, Warren…)? Yeah, no. In today’s world, so much would happen. Gina would be sent home at the very least, if not fired. I mean, let’s be honest – she’d probably be let go. If not by Joe, the boss – then by corporate when they review the security footage that would no doubt be recorded in today’s world on their CCTV cameras. And also, in some circles – this could actually be considered sexual harassment. Who knows if Lucas or even Warren wouldn’t sue her or complain to corporate or the police for her apron transgression. Sure, maybe her sexy workplace video would go viral and she’d be able to rake in some extra income somehow because of it, but she’d no longer be working for the store, that’s for sure. Damn the man.
WHEN HALF OF THE EMPLOYEES DO DRUGS ON THE JOB AND COMPLETELY GET AWAY WITH IT WITH NO CONSEQUENCES
Okay. So, this one still happens on a regular basis in today’s world, and the 1990’s were really no different in that respect. However, the key difference is that in Empire Records, nobody really cares if the employees are drugged out. In one scene, Gina confronts Corey (Liv Tyler) and blurts out to everyone, including their boss, that Corey is a “speed freak”. Corey reacts to this by going apeshit and wrecking a bunch of store property and it takes five people to get her under control. Nope, totally not on drugs of any kind.
Meanwhile, Mark (Ethan Embry) is getting wasted during work hours on pot brownies and hallucinates an entire concert with the band Gwar in which he’s on stage with them…but also watching himself at the same time and laughing like an idiot. Literally nobody notices or cares.
With such rampant drug use going on, in today’s world I’m sure that Empire Records/Music Town would have instituted a drug test policy in which the employees must prove they’re not currently doing drugs. Thanks for ruining it for everyone, guys. Corey and Mark, unless they cleaned up their acts, would totally be let go. Also – c’mon, there’s no way that Debra and Berko don’t do drugs, too. Amirite?!
WHEN REX MANNING SHOWS UP TO A STRUGGLING BUSINESS AND STILL TRIES TO SLEEP WITH GIRLS THERE
Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield) is a mother’s worst nightmare. Or…biggest fantasy? Probably a bit of both. The orange-faced lothario is the object of Corey’s affections for half of the movie, and then ol’ Rex shows up at the record store in order to sign photos, albums, whatever for his fans. He’s sort of abrasive right off the bat, but then we are treated to Rex trying to sign autographs only to have his agent/handler quit on him, and then we see Rex become the target of several women (and a few men) who are smitten by him in line. Corey in particular throws herself at him, before she has another breakdown (drug test this woman, somebody, please!) and runs out to the roof, bawling her eyes out.
Mon amour! Slow your roll, Corey! In today’s world, several things could happen. First, if Rex wanted to (and wasn’t a creepy douche) he could have summoned his aids (if they hadn’t quit) and had Corey thrown out, and he could have pressed charges. Most likely, if this happened today, though, ol’ Rex would have been revealed long before then to be a predator. She’s underage, and he knows better – but he still unzips his fly and tries to get it on with her, anyway. Yikes. Depending on who did what, ol’ Rex could be carted off to jail, Corey could lose her job, or both. Not everything goes just because it happens to be Rex Manning Day, damn it. Have some self-respect! (And lay off the bronzer for God’s sake.)
Speaking of, no wonder Empire Records is in danger of closing. Getting someone like Rex Manning to appear in your store when you’re not a large corporation is very hard, I’m sure, and costs a pretty penny. I wonder how much money Joe lost by telling Rex to get lost? Probably at least a few thousand. Gee, that could’ve really helped to, y’know, save the Empire?
WHEN THE STORE IS STRAPPED FOR CASH YET EVERY SINGLE EMPLOYEE IS SCHEDULED ON UNTIL MIDNIGHT
I honestly don’t know what I find less believable; that Joe can hire competent people or that it seems every single employee is scheduled on at the same time of day, pretty much. In my experience, night hours tend to elicit less available labor hours, yet there are enough employees on the clock that it’s possible to give Debra a mock funeral in the back room while everyone just stands around being useless. That is until Mark calls for help on the store intercom. In reality, we all know that the only employee scheduled would probably be Mark and a manager like Lucas (or someone else who wouldn’t just steal money) because time is money in the retail world, and if the store was really struggling, they’d be cutting costs with employees first. I know where I work, they recently started closing earlier in the day because we weren’t getting a lot of evening business. I highly doubt that Empire Records would be open until midnight anymore in this case, thus removing a lot of the silly scenes in the movie with lots of the characters interacting at the same time. C’mon, Joe. Learn how to schedule! Any manager worth his or her salt knows to only have max scheduling during peak hours. Psssshhhhh.
WHEN THE MANAGER HAS LITERALLY NO CONTROL OVER ANY OF HIS EMPLOYEES
Okay. I admit, when I watched Empire Records for the first time, I thought Joe was a really cool manager-type. I wanted to work with the guy. But after working in retail in real life for the past twenty years or so, and taking a fresh look at Joe’s managerial style – I have to say that in today’s world, the dude would’ve been fired a long time ago, or at the very least would have had to attend many a management training seminar, having to lay up in a hotel and go to manager class intermittently throughout the year until he grew competent.
During the film, when Joe isn’t in his office drumming on a literal drum set – he’s got a stash of booze and cigars that all the employees know about. So, naturally, this means that Joe not only drums on the job, but also drinks and smokes cigars. On the clock. With minors present.
Not only that, but he’s comfortable roughing up Lucas, trying to cover up Lucas’ theft by handing his boss a bag filled with paper (instead of the money he says is in there) and also seems to have a sort of creepy comfortability with the young women on his team. Gina has no problem stripping in front of her boss, and it seems like she’s done this kind of thing in front of him before. Joe is meant to represent the balance between corporate and indie (with indie eventually winning over) – but in today’s corporate, sanitized worklife, there is no room for people who don’t buckle under the corporate heel. There is also something to be said for having professional management staff in a real-life work setting. I think personally, it’s pretty necessary. Nobody wants to have to report the boss to upper management for smoking stogies in the back room.
WHEN THE STORE EXPERIENCES SHOPLIFTING, AND THEN ARMED ROBBERY, BUT THEN HIRES THE PERPETRATOR ON THE SPOT
Wow. Just, wow. I mean, hats off to Joe and the gang for their forward-thinking on the topic of hiring criminals or those with a criminal past who are just out of prison, but man…all signs point to no with Warren. Why on earth would anyone think that Warren of all people would make a great employee? With his already-established and persistent behaviors (theft, anger, stupidity), who in their right minds would ever hire the kid until he became a little reformed? Instead, A.J. sort of just butts in and goes over Joe’s head to hire Warren despite his transgressions. Yeah. Good luck getting that past HR today. Not with the multiple background checks and the strenuous interview process most corporate businesses have these days. Sorry, Warren – you’re gonna’ have to do much better.
Just kidding. Maybe retail needs more people like Warren. Shoot first, ask questions later. I like it.
Overall, as you can likely already tell – this post was sort of tongue-in-cheek. However, I still think realistically, the events that transpired within Empire Records couldn’t happen in today’s corporate world. It’s too sanitized. People are too touchy. There are lawsuits, firings, and lots of other things going on even for the most minor infractions. Not that that’s not a good thing in many cases (*cough*BillCosby*cough*), but just as with gentrification – which brings “safety” and sanitization, there seems to be also something lost. Culture, personality, and individuality. Say what you will about work environments prior to the late 2000’s, but they were sort of fun. Now? Not so much.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.